1 month ago

The RESTORE Alabama Agenda

The 2020 regular session of the Alabama state legislature is behind us. Did anyone notice? It was a session marked more by what didn’t happen than by what did. One minute the lobbyists were being paid well to try and get marijuana legalized, state budgets were flush, and gambling bills were once again all that the media could talk about. And then the coronavirus came through like a bullet train on greased rails and Goat Hill became a ghost town.

When the Alabama House and Senate finally returned the only matters given any real attention were social distancing and the quick passage of streamlined budgets. Somewhere in that mix a schism surfaced between the legislature and the governor’s office over the right to sign checks on $1.8 billion in federal relief dollars. In the end, the governor made friends with the House and left the Senate wondering who took their lunch money. It was not a pretty picture, and on that note, the legislature went home.

But there is work yet to be done. Important work. Work that is timely and necessary and the leaders of our wonderful state have been elected to their positions for such a time as this.

The Alabama Policy Institute believes that the governor and legislature should put aside any differences and work collaboratively toward a special session within the next 30 days. There are matters that must be tended to in the wake of the pandemic and its resultant shutdown of our society and the economic engines of private enterprise. API proposes a six point “call” for the governor to consider for which the House and Senate could take swift bipartisan action. This six-point plan of action calls for legal protections, government accountability, increased broadband access, tax relief, lessened license restrictions, and education reform. API presents this proposed agenda as “the RESTORE Alabama Agenda” with RESTORE standing for “Responsible Efficient Solutions To Open and Revive Economy.”

First and foremost, API believes that Senator Orr’s bill to limit the ability to bring frivolous and costly lawsuits against businesses, churches, and non-profits related to alleged corona infection must be given top priority. Without such legislation, it is to be expected that a host of lawsuits will be filed that will only serve to further ravage Alabamians who are just now putting the pieces of the private sector back together.

Secondly, and likely with some potential for controversy, legislation must be passed that puts the Alabama legislature in as much of a position of responsibility for quarantines and economic shutdowns as the governor. To be sure, the office of the governor must be able to declare a state of emergency if and when needed. But no governor should be required to carry that burden alone. And looking at the mess ongoing in other states we must also be aware that future Alabama governors might be less judicious than Governor Ivey and therefore certain checks and balances should be emplaced. API believes that any quarantine or economic shutdown that extends longer than thirty days should require legislative sanction and an equal share of the responsibility that goes with it. Senator Whatley’s prior attempt to pass such a Bill should be resurrected, amended and passed in short order.

As a third point API begins with the question: “Can anyone ever say again that we don’t need to roll out broadband internet capability on a statewide basis?” Our children have been forced to home school. Businesses have taken to daily telecommuting to survive. Alabama’s court system nearly stalled until online hearings were established. Telemedicine is a real thing now. The legislature must convene with the intent to completely blanket the state with internet access that assures its citizens that they will have equal access to education, business, medicine, and the rule of law. Budget amendments should be considered for both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund with appropriations to cover this measure. To be clear, API does not advocate incurring debt to accomplish this goal. To the extent possible, state leaders should use one-time federal monies from the CARES Act and supplement that as needed with funds from Alabama’s rainy day trust fund. This is too important and the past three months have only made it more apparent of the outright need.

Fourth, we must open the gates a bit wider. On April 2, Governor Ivey rightfully suspended the licensure and certificate of need (“CON”) requirements for medical practitioners and first responders to enable them to more easily come to Alabama’s assistance during the pandemic. And guess what? The sky did not fall. If licensure is a hurdle that must be removed for emergencies then the legislature should consider removing those barriers to essential personnel and medical facilities for more than just this present day. API has long advocated for the reduction of licensure and CON barriers. But for now, the governor should call upon the legislature to enact her current suspension of licensures and CON requirements for the next 12 months to ensure that we get fully past this current crisis. After a year, the leaders of our state can reassess the implementation of both. API calls upon Alabama’s elected officials to remove the barriers that impede private enterprise and restrict the availability of quality healthcare by suspending licensure and CON requirements now.

Fifth is the regeneration of Alabama’s business climate. Economically speaking there is much that can be done in a post-pandemic Alabama to ensure that our citizens have every opportunity for success. State legislators must return to the debate on the renewal of the Alabama Jobs Act to incentivize the growth of existing business and the recruitment of new employers to the state. As we come out of the coronavirus shutdown, this legislation must by necessity also include incentives to small businesses who have suffered losses to invest in their own infrastructure and to hire/rehire from Alabama’s great labor pool. Additionally, tax relief should be granted so that federal funds received for relief do not become taxable income to the state, and to grant an income tax credit for any federal relief for which repayment to the feds is necessary. The governor, the House and the Senate must show the people of Alabama that they will not attempt to earn revenue for government on the backs of suffering private citizens.

Lastly, any post-pandemic review must include a discussion on education. Alabama ranks dead last in the nation for education quality. In just the past week, an independent review of the State Department of Education called for education leaders in Alabama to embrace and own reforms. For the past two months, our children have been forced to adjust on the run, many seniors lost their graduation ceremonies, and if you think that failing schools got better, you’re dreaming. It is time for the legislature to give firm debate to the concept of education savings accounts for any child who is in a failing school to be allowed to move to a school that better serves their needs. Education tax dollars are for the education of the child, not to feed a failing system. This is a fair and equitable solution to a problem that is not going away without game-changing action.

We are getting through this. Alabamians are resilient and we always rise to the occasion. I am mindful of a quote from Andrew Jackson who said, “I was made for the storm, and a calm does not suit me.” The governor and state legislative leaders must gather around the table, break bread, and make a plan. Alabama’s leaders did not create the coronavirus, but they did create the shutdown. Now they must make sure the impediments to the regeneration of Alabama society are not felt because they did not equally embrace responses such as those just proposed. The RESTORE Alabama Agenda can bring that to reality.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

12 hours ago

Brooks: ‘I oppose the Socialist Democrat and racist efforts to deface and destroy Mount Rushmore’

Count Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) as a steadfast supporter of Mount Rushmore.

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned Friday trip to the national memorial in South Dakota for a pre-Independence Day fireworks show and patriotic tribute, Brooks released a statement emphasizing his cosponsorship of H.R. 7358.

This bill, known as the Mount Rushmore Protection Act, was authored by Congressman Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and would prohibit federal funds from being used to alter, change, destroy or remove, in whole or in part, any name, face or other feature on the namesake memorial.

Liberal organizations in recent days have begun to target Mount Rushmore, with the Democratic National Committee even claiming the monument is “glorifying white supremacy.”

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Brooks pushed back on this, saying, “Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are exceptional American heroes. Each contributed monumentally to America’s greatness and share a common legacy of spreading freedom and liberty throughout the world. Their places on Mount Rushmore are well-deserved as exemplars of what it took to make America great, and efforts to denigrate their contributions are beyond reprehensible.”

The North Alabama Republican also outlined the contributions of each American icon memorialized on Mount Rushmore.

“Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, the document that officially kicked off America’s quest for independence,” he continued. “George Washington won the Revolutionary War, served as America’s first president, and set the high standards of honor and leadership that have molded the republic to this day. Teddy Roosevelt protected America’s beautiful and special lands for public enjoyment forever. Abraham Lincoln held our young nation together through the most tumultuous period in American history, freed the slaves and gave his life perfecting of union. These men represent the best of us. Generations of Americans have celebrated their contributions to our nation. They embody American exceptionalism, freedom and liberty.”

Brooks said this issue exemplifies larger societal issues that are ongoing in America.

“With the exception of the Civil War, America has never faced greater internal threats,” the congressman warned.

“Socialist Democrats and racists, as evidenced by a recent Democrat National Committee tweet that said Mount Rushmore is ‘glorifying white supremacy’, are dead set on undermining American’s freedom and liberty,” Brooks continued. “In a frenzy of delirious ‘wokeness’, Socialist Democrats and those who promote racial division are hellbent on destroying the very fabric of our republic.”

“I oppose the Socialist Democrat and racist efforts to deface and destroy Mount Rushmore,” he stressed to conclude his statement.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Auburn University gets $3 million grant to increase innovative conservation practices

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn University College of Agriculture research and extension faculty will be using a $3 million grant to help forge a future for Alabama agriculture by encouraging the use of innovative conservation practices among the state’s row crop farmers.

The grant comes from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials (On-Farm Trials), a new component of the Conservation Innovation Grants first authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Auburn’s $3 million grant is the largest to a single entity of the more than $24 million awarded. The grants are designed to help partners implement and evaluate innovative approaches that have demonstrated conservation benefits on farmland.

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These conservation practices are sorely needed on Alabama farms for several reasons, said Rishi Prasad, assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and leader of the research project.

“Many soils in Alabama are severely degraded and have low organic matter content,” Prasad said. “It is important to rebuild soil health to conserve soil for use by future generations. Increased adoption of cover crops by Alabama farmers can create sustainable row-crop production systems while protecting the state’s soil and water resources.”

Another aspect of the grant will be the demonstration of water-smart irrigation practices, he said.

“Summer droughts in Alabama are very common, often causing yield losses,” Prasad said. “The adoption of water-smart irrigation in Alabama is considered one of the most important strategies for mitigating the negative impacts of drought. This project will demonstrate the use of these technologies and help increase the adoption of irrigation in Alabama.”

The project also will help farmers evaluate nutrient losses and demonstrate the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of improved conservation practices compared to farmers’ “business-as-usual” practices, he said.

“Fertilizer is one of the major inputs used in crop production,” Prasad said. “However, more than 50 percent of the purchased fertilizers ends up getting lost in air or water. This project will help farmers evaluate those losses.”

Three Alabama farms have been selected as cooperators for this project: Posey Farms in north Alabama, Lazenby Farms in central Alabama and L.C. Farms in south Alabama. These farms will be used to demonstrate the innovative conservation practices.

“The interesting part of this project is that any farmer who wants to adopt cover crops or smart irrigation technologies will receive incentive payments that include assistance for cover crop seed, planting and termination costs, labor charges and forgone income,” Prasad said. “Farmers also can borrow inter-seeder, roller crimper and soil moisture sensors from selected NRCS offices as a part of this project.”

A network of learning sites will be established at the extension offices located in Lawrence, Geneva and Lee counties, said Audrey Gamble, assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, who also is involved in the grant. Project meetings with cooperating farmers and neighboring farmers will be organized, and information on the project will be presented.

“Farmers will be called for face-to-face meetings, dinner meetings, workshops and field days where information on topics related to cover crops, water-smart irrigation strategies, nutrient budgets and nutrient-use efficiencies will be presented,” Gamble said. “As project data becomes available, information will be shared with farmers at learning sites. The project already is underway, and we will be instrumenting these demonstration farms in the fall of 2020.”

For Brenda Ortiz, professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, the grant marks the continuation of on-farm irrigation projects she initiated in 2017.

“The important thing about this project is that we will look at the whole system—the impact of cover crops on soil health and soil structure that will impact soil water storage and movement which, in the end, will impact water availability for the crops and improved nutrient and water-use efficiency,” Ortiz said.

While technological changes take time, there is a greater awareness in Alabama now of what technology can do to increase irrigation efficiency, she said.

“Farmers and consultants have gained knowledge on the use of soil sensors for irrigation scheduling, and we have been able to demonstrate the impact of variable-rate irrigation at some sites,” Ortiz said. “However, more work is needed.”

Ortiz hopes the innovation grant will increase the adoption of practices such as irrigation scheduling.

“If we can accomplish this, it will be a great success story and will result in possible environmental and economic benefits,” she said. “The other piece of the puzzle is nutrient management. This project has a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship.”

Leah Duzy of the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory is working on the economic aspects of the grant. Innovation grant awardees are required to evaluate the economic and conservation outcomes from these practices and systems, giving NRCS critical information to inform conservation work in the future. That’s where Michelle Worosz, professor of rural sociology in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, will play a role in implementing the grant.

“Production agriculture by its very nature is sociological—there is nothing that is not a product of human activity and/or social interaction,” Worosz said. “In the case of our grant, I will examine the conservation-based decision-making processes that take place on the three selected farms. These farms will serve as case studies of technological change, adoption and adaptation.

“I also will observe the extension team as they interact with a broader range of participants during workshops and field days. It is hoped that data from the case studies and the observations can be used by the team to improve conservation technology. In other words, this feedback loop is a means of co-developing knowledge about conservation strategies, particularly smart irrigation and cover cropping.

The grant’s implementation on “real” farms is important to its success, Worosz said.

“Understandably, producers can be quite skeptical of experimental plots on research farms,” she said. “Because research plots are often smaller, they may receive an unrealistic amount or type of care, they may not be subject to the same rules or regulations, the farm manager and researchers might have access to more or different resources such as advanced technologies, the plots are not required to produce the same yields or produce the same return on investment, and they may be located in a place that is not comparable to producers’ farms.”

It’s also important that the conservation technologies will be co-developed by faculty and extension specialists working alongside farmers, Worosz said.

“This is a way to develop a more robust set of bundled technologies—technologies that will be more user-friendly and better able to meet the needs of the user while also meeting larger environmental goals,” she said. “If the user has input, it will help with a broader buy-in of these conservation technologies by other producers.”

(Courtesy of Auburn University)

16 hours ago

Lara Trump: ‘We actually had never confirmed a rally in Alabama’

Senior campaign adviser Lara Trump has rebutted reporting from CNN that the president’s reelection campaign canceled a July 11 rally in Mobile, Alabama.

Trump — who is married to the president’s son, Eric — told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum this week that the rally was never finalized.

Rumors had been swirling in previous weeks that President Donald J. Trump would come to the state to campaign in person for his endorsed Republican Senate candidate, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

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RELATED: Watch: Trump, Tuberville depart Air Force One together

MacCallum asked Lara Trump if the Alabama rally was canceled and, if so, why it was canceled.

“Well, we actually had never confirmed a rally in Alabama,” she responded. “We never talked about it, never announced anything. So, I’m not sure why everybody got so excited about an Alabama rally.”

The show host then interjected to followed up with, “So there never was an Alabama rally? That’s what you’re saying?”

Shaking her head to indicate a negative response, Trump added, “There was nothing official from the campaign. We never announced anything on that.”

It should be noted that the Tuberville campaign never confirmed the rally, either.

He will face former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s July 14 Republican primary runoff.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 hours ago

New public pavilion opens at Smith Lake

Anglers and tournament staff now have a shaded place on Smith Lake to host their weigh-ins.

A new public weigh-in pavilion is open at the Lewis Smith Lake Dam boat ramp in Walker County. The pavilion was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, and constructed with the help of many others.

“Our great partnership with Alabama Power continues with this pavilion,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “It was exciting to see this come together, and we look forward to future tournaments that will benefit the local community.”

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New fishing weigh-in pavilion opens on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion provides shade for fish holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“This facility was designed to make setting up for weigh-ins easier and more efficient for all sizes of tournament organizations,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Having the pavilion close to the water, the boat ramp and the courtesy docks will improve the survival of fish released following weigh-ins – and that means more bass for everyone to catch in the future.”

Construction began in January and was initially scheduled to be completed by April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteer labor was coordinated by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance that provided apprentices for all phases of the build.

“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance was privileged to be a part of this great partnership to benefit local anglers and the community,” said Robert Stroede, conservation manager for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Our union volunteers donated more than 1,000 hours of their time and trade skills to help make this facility possible and benefit not only the community but also the valuable resources of Smith Lake. Partnerships like this one between corporate, public and nonprofit organizations are now, and will continue to be, a huge asset to the future of conservation.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We were thrilled to work with B.A.S.S., the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the local community to construct this pavilion,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs. “Not only does this pavilion enhance this access point on Smith Lake, it also helps showcase the state of Alabama’s beautiful waterways.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources donated engineering expertise to the project, and added a ramp and docks to the nearby boat launch.

“We are very excited about the pavilion and the upgrades we have made to the access point at Smith Dam,” said Alabama Department of Conservation Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos. “It all works together nicely and will offer a great experience for anyone interested in visiting this beautiful lake.”

Project leaders said the pavilion will boost the Smith Lake community.

“I have been involved with high school fishing for a number of years and the sport is rapidly growing,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

Community leaders said the pavilion will attract more fishing tournaments, especially among high schools and amateurs.

“I am pleased to be involved in this project alongside Alabama Power and know that those that enjoy bass fishing, especially high school anglers in our community, will enjoy this pavilion and the facilities,” said Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. “This partnership with B.A.S.S., IBEW, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and Alabama Power is a wonderful opportunity for Smith Lake and will promote the sport of angling for many years to come.”

“We so appreciate the investment Alabama Power has made in the Smith Lake Dam Pavilion,” added State Rep. Connie Rowe. “For several years this area has been utilized by The Chamber of Commerce of Walker County for fishing tournaments, which bring thousands of visitors and their tax dollars into our area. This pavilion will serve as a hub for those tournaments and other events.”

For up-to-date information about Alabama lakes, download the Smart Lakes app to your smartphone at smartlakes.com. For more information on this or other Alabama Power public recreation sites, visit apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

7 Things: No confirmed ‘coronavirus parties’ in Tuscaloosa, Tuberville’s handling of a 2nd-degree rape case becomes political fodder, Ivey open to changing Confederate holidays and more …

7. Pelosi is just out here ‘trying to save the world’

  • Recently, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for not commenting on protestors who have taken to tearing down statues like the one of St. Junipero Serra at the Golden Gate Park in Pelosi’s district.
  • Pelosi said that McCarthy “hasn’t had the faintest idea of our dynamic in our district,” and that she’s “trying to save the world from coronavirus.” Now, as coronavirus cases have increased across the country, the Senate will take up the relief package HEROES Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called a “liberal wish list.”

6. Coronavirus cases in Madison County jail, Clanton mayor also positive

  • In Madison County, an employee at the jail has tested positive for the coronavirus, which is the first case at the facility, and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner has said that they are taking “precautions” within the facility “concerning the affected employee’s contact with the inmates prior to the positive test result.”
  • Mayor Billy Joe Driver in Clanton has also tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently at St. Vincent’s Birmingham for treatment. At 84-years-old, the mayor is at higher risk regarding the virus.
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5. More than 1,100 coronavirus cases in one day

  • The Alabama Department of Public Health has added 1,162 coronavirus cases in the state in just one day. There were also 22 more hospitalizations bringing the total currently to 797, and there were 14 people who died, bringing total deaths to 961.
  • Ten counties have 57% of the new cases, which includes Mobile, Madison, Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, Marshall, Morgan, Baldwin, DeKalb and Montgomery counties. There were 5,788 tests conducted across the state in one day.

4. Record jobs numbers as economy continue to recover

  • The headlines screamed of June numbers far better than the experts expected. Much to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s chagrin, there were 4.8 million jobs created and an unemployment rate that fell to 11.1%, with President Donald Trump saying, “Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back. It’s coming back extremely strong.”
  • But tens of millions are still out of work as the American economy continues to reel from the effects of rising coronavirus numbers and a patchwork of economic lockdowns that seem to be increasing in number again.

3. Ivey open to making changes

  • Governor Kay Ivey’s spokesperson Gina Maiola said that “Ivey is certainly open to the discussion” of changing Confederate holidays, but those decisions have to go “through the Legislature.”
  • Maiola added that Ivey “believes that while we cannot change the past or erase our history, she is confident that we can build a future that values the worth of each and every citizen,” and the holidays in question would be Robert E. Lee’s birthday, Confederate Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis Day.

2. Tuberville attacked for his handling of a player’s rape case from Auburn

  • With less than two weeks to go before the run-off for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, voters are starting to see what type of attacks former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville could see in November from U.S. Senator Doug Jones and the media.
  • The attack stems from the 1999 season when wide receiver Clifton Robinson received a one-game suspension after pleading guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor (a misdemeanor) as a plea deal following being charged with the second-degree rape of a 15-year-old girl. Robinson would later be arrested on assault charges and subsequently convicted for the battery of an off-duty police officer years after leaving Auburn.

1. No, there were not coronavirus parties in Tuscaloosa

  • A Tuscaloosa City councilwoman repeated a stupid rumor that students at Alabama colleges and universities were hosting parties with bowls full of money as prizes for getting the coronavirus, and the national media ran with the story as if it was fact, but don’t expect a retraction.
  • There is obviously no evidence that any such events actually took place — not a single Facebook post, tweet or Instagram story supports this narrative, but the narrative was helpful for the media and the desires for a mandatory mask ordinance from Tuscaloosa’s leaders.